Holy Hands

In the spring of 1983, dressed in a white robe with a red stole I had designed, I stood in the front of our church with eight other 8th graders as we affirmed our baptisms.

Confirmation Day Page 1983
I’m so grateful my mother has archived our lives on these pages. And I’m a bit overwhelmed seeing my name on this page. Long before I started wearing other people’s names, I was Jennifer Lynn Shimota. The two decades I was Jennifer Lynn Shimota were the safest of my life.

There were lots of words and promises and prayers, and I regret to say that I was likely more interested in the baby’s breath my mother had arranged in my up-swept hair. Or maybe it was the electric feeling of wearing high heels for the first time (apart from the hours and hours I wore my mother’s around our house). However, we had gone to the Gunne Sax outlet in San Francisco to find the perfect white dress. Layers of white gauzy fabric with white lace up the bodice and around the high neck – and crisp, white ribbon, sewn precisely around the cuffs at my wrists. So, I could have been waiting to get the robe off, so I could show off my dress.


Confirmation Class - Jennifer
See that stole my dad was wearing? I wore that today, as I asked Indigo and Chol if they renounce all the forces of evil that defy God.

It only occurs to me now, that the adults in the room were teary with pride and brimming with hope as the next group of young women and men claimed their own baptisms and became adults in the life of the church. Our parents had brought us to the baptismal font when we were infants, answering God’s call to raise their children in the Christian church, which for them meant the Lutheran church. They brought us to the waters of baptism and bore witness to a pastor saying things like, “sealed by the Holy Spirit forever” and calling upon the Holy Spirit to come and stir up in us, “the Joy of the Lord both now, and forever.”

We had attended confirmation classes and retreats. We had memorized the entirety of Luther’s Small Catechism. Our Confirmation Day was a lifetime in the making, but more specifically, it was two-years-of-preparation in the making.

My dad was my pastor, so he was my confirmation teacher, and he was so good at it. He’s a story teller, and he is funny as can be. So, we really couldn’t have had a better teacher, and yet we goofed off in class, memorizing paragraphs just well enough to recite them to him and have him make a check mark by that portion of the Small Catechism. You see, he was a great and patient teacher…but we were 8th graders. And (I’ll only speak for myself at this point) I was in confirmation class because that’s what you do in the Lutheran church when you are in middle school. It was the next obligation. I had completed First Communion classes and had my first communion in 5th grade. Then, I guess 6th grade was just regular Sunday school. But, I knew that 7th grade was when you start confirmation classes.

I remember no movement of the Spirit.

I remember no holy tremble when I first knelt at the railing and received a piece of God into my hands, placing it in my mouth.

I was simply a part of the church, and she was offering what she had by way of education and experience, so I could more fully live into my baptismal life.

Now that I’m a pastor, I see all this from the other side. And today, two of my favorite humans, Chol and Indigo, stood in the front of our church and affirmed their baptisms. Was Indigo thinking about her dress? Were Chol’s new shoes on his mind? I don’t know. But, I was there for a miracle – even if they missed it.

There is a part in the rite where the pastor lays her hands on the Confirmand’s shoulder or head and prays the same words that were written about Jesus by the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)

This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. It’s a prophecy. Those who spoke and heard it believed it would happen. And it did.

So, we gather around our 8th graders and speak these words of prophecy. Today, I invited all the people who had ever been a part of Indigo and Chol’s faith lives to come and lay their hands on their shoulders as we prayed for them. There were so many people gathered around each of them that some people couldn’t reach them. The people on the outside of the clumps of humans who love Indigo and Chol touched the shoulders of those who were touching the shoulders of those for whom we prayed.

And with the weight of the hands of those who love them and the voice of their pastor who loves them, they were the center of the ancient prayer that the Spirit would rest upon them, bringing wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (respect), and the joy of the Lord, forever!

I don’t know what they experienced today. They may have been distracted and not heard the words. But, there is no way they missed it when dozens of people stood up and walked toward them to physically draw near them. There is no way they missed it when “their people” showed up to pray.

And if they did miss it. If they weren’t really present for it, then I’m grateful that the church never stops offering us opportunities to be prayed for. I’m grateful that there are other times we receive the weight of the hands of our church family and hear at least one voice asking God for healing or guidance on our behalf.

I don’t remember the weight of my dad’s hands on that spring day in 1983. But, I remember it at the railing a few times on Maundy Thursday. And at El Camino Pines summer camp a few years after my confirmation day, my cabin mates laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed while I wept with sorrow I didn’t even know I was carrying. And when I left for college, my congregation gathered around me and prayed. And when I knelt at the altar of Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in High Point as I was ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, “my people” showed up with their hands and voices to pray for me. When I returned from bereavement leave after my husband’s death, I told a group of my pastoral colleagues that I was having a hard time re-entering into my role as pastor. I told them I didn’t really know what I needed to feel ready to re-enter, but that I felt “off” and would appreciate their prayers. I meant, later: in their own prayer lives, to remember me to the Lord. Instead, they moved closer. They drew near and laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed for me. The weight of their hands and the sound of their voices are fingerprints on my life.

Teresa of Avila said of our risen and ascended Lord, who no longer walks the earth with us, “Christ has no hands but yours.” So, I’m grateful that when I need to feel Christ’s presence, my human family draws near to touch me with the hands of Christ, calling to the Spirit, “Come!”

* If you are reading this and feeling claustrophobic, if the description of people drawing near you and touching you causes you to flinch, please know that we ask permission to offer our touch. In the case of confirmands, as we plan their service, we discuss if it is okay for people to come forward and lay hands on them. One year, I had a confirmand who only wanted his parents’ and my hands on him; we obliged because if it doesn’t feel like love, we don’t want to do it. If he had resisted any physical touch at all, then I would have stood next to him and spoken the words without touching him.

The Gravitational Pull of Shame

Shame’s extra dose of gravity is resting on my chest. It doesn’t press enough to labor my breath, nor bring any sort of panic, but the nerves of my scalp are wired into this additional pull. It’s been two days since shame laid its heavy head down.

Words will be the death of me.

Also, words are kind of the life of me.

Maybe because I spill so many words, it doesn’t always occur to me in a timely manner that some of them have not simply dribbled down my chin but have been spat into the center of a group where people look uncomfortably at them, then at me, then at each other, then back at my words throbbing there among us.

On Tuesday, it took a good hour to recognize the weigh of shame, the heaviness on my chest. On my drive home from a deeply meaningful meeting with some of the smartest women I know, my chest and scalp asked me to glance back at what I had said at the end of the meeting.

We were talking about women and the issues of strength, ego, timidity, and taking (or not taking) up space in our work lives. Someone said it was hard for her to claim her space because it meant shedding so much of her training as a young girl: make sure everyone else is happy, and do whatever you can to accommodate others.

I live in the South, now. Things are different here regarding genders and expectations. A dear friend of mine has indulged me in several long conversations about gender roles in his beloved South – and how it has been for me to encounter this since I moved here a decade ago. During these unhurried and thoughtful phone calls, we have talked about how he noticed I enter rooms differently, that I take up the space I need in a room or a conversation, that I perceive my role in a given setting differently than, say, the women in his family or his childhood church have in his experience. We have wondered aloud, maybe even hypothesized, about whether this difference in my manner is a California vs. The South thing. Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about this.

So, as the Tuesday conversation with that group of smart women turned to this topic I had considered in a labored and focused way, I asked the question that bubbled up from my gut. When one of my Sisters said taking up space in her work life takes some dismantling of her childhood training, I asked, “Is that because this is the South?”

My ability to be obtusely unaware when I have spat words into the middle of a sacred space is quite keen. I didn’t even notice my words were just lying there while my sisters stared at them. Nope, I just kept talking. I added words to the embarrassing pile, strings of words like, “I walk into rooms like I belong there. I take up the space I need. When I moved to the South, I found that it’s different here.”

Gratefully, one of the kindest, smartest, most articulate women I know stopped me short and said something like, “A better guess is that you won the lottery when it comes to your family of origin.” She was right, of course. My childhood was enchanted, and my parents were purposeful in their choices and patterns around affording every family member dignity and love. I learned that I belonged in rooms, conversations, projects, and planning because that’s what happened in my home. It could be that our cultural context helped shape it, too, but this dear woman offered me an out from the mess I didn’t even know I was making.

Until the meeting was over, and I was driving away.

Then my scalp prickled and my chest sank slightly under the weight of shame’s visit, which is seldom brief.

At the tail end of a productive meeting brimming with mutual encouragement, my curiosity and ego asked a question I had been mulling over. But, I hadn’t given any context of my months and years of observation and pondering. Instead, I basically said, “Huh. You Southern women are struggling with something that comes naturally to me. Y’know, what with being from California and all. I’m kind of kick ass and strong in ways we have just identified as important.”

Just typing that makes me queasy.

My chest is still heavy, and my scalp still knows something is wrong.

But, my brain chimed in yesterday. I started thinking it through, and anger showed up. Now, anger and shame know full well they often arm-wrestle to decide how long I’m going to wear shame around to remind myself that I am a loser. Shame has very strong arms, and often wins the tussle. However, when anger shows up to the fight, she usually brings defensiveness along with her. When they win, I get to dismiss other people’s reactions and opinions as ridiculous.

This is what anger has to say about the clumsy words I spoke on Tuesday: “All you did was say something that’s true, that others have told you is true about yourself. You didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and if stating that you have confidence is a great and cardinal sin, then what was all that talk among your Sisters concerning ego, timidity, and taking up space about?!”

So, here I am tonight. Imagining calling up each of those Sisters to explain how much I’ve thought about the questions I posed, how I should have offered context, how if my words stung or were pompous – then, I apologize. And, I’m also a bit mad that my body has physically responded for two days, that my chest and scalp nudged me all the while I was at a writers’ conference I’d been waiting to attend.

Writing this here – and the possibility of sharing this publicly – has worked a bit of a miracle. Shame’s extra dose of gravity is not nearly so extra, anger and defensiveness really aren’t that interested, and the nerves in my scalp have mellowed.

In a writer’s workshop today, a presenter suggested we write 600 words every day. I’ve splashed more than a thousand onto this screen.

To quote Farmer Hoggett in Babe, “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”

The Really New Revised Non-Standard Version of the Passion of our Lord

I’m a pastor.

Every year, before we read the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial, I remind people that when we read “The Jews” in this story, we are not talking about your average Jewish person. We are talking about the religious leaders. The priests, the people in charge of the Temple and the holy scriptures, the teachers and the preachers…THOSE are the people who go to Pilate and convince him to crucify Jesus.

And every year, as I explain that, I am struck that I am describing myself. I am a religious leader.

So, tonight, when I got home from leading Good Friday worship and reading the Passion of our Lord according to the gospel of St. John, I wrote myself into the story. I wrote some others in, too. It was an ugly thing to write. Tammy and Tim, I included you because of your roles. I hope you don’t mind. If anyone reading this thinks it is sacrilegious and wants to call me a blasphemer, you may absolutely do so. After pouring over this for the last hour, any name you want to call me will pale. I’m clinging to my baptism as I crawl into bed tonight.

A North Carolina Passion Story

Jesus went with his disciples to the Blue Ridge Mountains; there was a park there where he and his disciples often went. So, Judas brought a detachment of police officers and a squad of security officers the office of the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA had on retainer, and they came with cell-phone flashlights and a spot light and guns. Simon Peter had a gun, too, and he shot off the ear of one of the synod’s security officers. Jesus told Peter to put his gun away.

So, the police officers, their sergeant, and the synod’s security guards arrested Jesus and handcuffed him. First, they took him to Tammy Jones West, who was the Assistant to the Bishop at the time. She had been the one who had told the NC synod pastors, deacons, and deans that it would just be better for one person to die in this mess instead of many. Tammy questioned Jesus about his teaching, and he said, “Tammy, I’ve been teaching in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. They record me and put it on the internet. Nothing I’ve said is a secret. Have you listened to my preaching? Have you asked the people at Nativity in Arden? How about Grace in Hendersonville? They know what I said. Why are you asking me?” When one of the officers heard this, he punched Jesus and screamed at him, “Is that how you answer the Assistant to the Bishop?!” And Jesus replied, “Which part of what I said was untrue?”

Then Tammy had Jesus handcuffed and sent to Tim Smith, who was the bishop at the time. But they didn’t get anywhere with the bishop, so the officers and some of the pastors in the synod (Jennifer Krushas was among the pastors who were furious and going to get something done about this Jesus.) brought Jesus to Governor Cooper, who was in Asheville to oversee a major festival, and Governor Cooper asked them, “What are the charges you are bringing against this man?” They said, “Sir, seriously, would we be here if he weren’t a criminal?” Governor Cooper said, “This sounds like it’s a religious issue, so maybe you should go to the synod council and see about ecclesiastical censuring or whatever you folks do in cases like this.” But Jennifer spoke for the group and said, “Governor, we can’t. We need you in this case because according to church doctrine, we can’t kill him.”

So, Cooper went into his chambers where Jesus was waiting and asked him some questions, but he didn’t really get anywhere with him. Jesus evaded questions, not quite pleading the 5th, but Cooper couldn’t get the straight answers he needed. He went back out to the pastors and deacons and said, “I can’t actually find anything to charge him with. But, I was thinking, you know how you have that thing every year during the festival that one person gets pardoned? Let’s have it be him this year. What do you think?” Jennifer and the other pastors looked at each other, then looked back at Cooper and said, “Not Jesus. Give us William Marks this year. We know he’s a murderer, but set him free and keep Jesus for trial and the death penalty.”

So, Governor Cooper took Jesus and had him beaten. And when he was bleeding freely from open wounds, the officers put a robe on him, and they made a crown out of thorns and jammed it on his head, so he bled some more. He just stood there as they mockingly bowed before him and said sarcastically, “Hail, King! Hail, King!” and hit him about the head some more.

Then, Cooper brought Jesus out to Jennifer and the other pastors and deacons again. He was all bloody and bruised, his blood soaking through the purple robe and streaming down his face and neck from the crown of thorns. All Cooper said was, “Here he is,” and those pastors and deacons and deans (and it’s likely the bishop and his staff were present by now) screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!” And Cooper said, “YOU take him and kill him if you want it so badly.” And Jennifer shouted about how there is a law about claiming to be the Son of God, and that law carries the weight of the death penalty.

Cooper was kind of freaking out at that point, so he went over to Jesus and questioned him about where he’s from, and Jesus refused to answer at first, but then he started saying that he’s not from this world and weird stuff like that. So, Cooper kept trying to release Jesus, but the pastors and deacons and synod staff kept coming up with new reasons for Cooper to convict Jesus and sentence him to death. So, he said, “You really want me to kill your King?” And they put their shoulders back and said resolutely, “We have no religious king. Our allegiance is to our country and its leaders.” So, Governor Cooper handed Jesus over to Jennifer and the other Lutheran leaders, so they could have him killed.

And when he had died, a couple of guys who weren’t very churchy, who kind of only went to church on Christmas and Easter, and who didn’t have any “God Loves You” t-shirts or listen to K-Love on the radio, who were never on congregation council or acolytes or anything…but things Jesus had done and said had shifted things for them…they asked if they could take care of Jesus’ body, and Governor Cooper gave them permission.

Omada – Week 4

Health is complicated.

It would be lovely if there were a formula for health we could be taught and memorize and apply every day. But, every day is different. Every body is different. Every life has a different set of tools. Every life has a different set of challenges. And those tools and challenges are not constant. Life is fluid. Health, also, is fluid.

I’m nearly 49 years old. I should know by now that health is complicated, that nutrition and exercise are wrapped up in history and emotions, that most of us have lead-weight-backpacks of shame and insecurities regarding food, sleep, work, activity, and worth. I really should know that there is no magic formula for this part of life.

And yet…

And yet, I started the Omada program thinking “this’ll be it!” It’s different than the rest.

  • It’s 4 months long.
  • It’s a personal coach.
  • It’s a small group of people cheering each other on.
  • It’s not a formula for drastic change; it’s noticing patterns and shifting them toward healthier ones.

Turns out all those things are true about Omada…and it’s still not the magic formula.

Because there isn’t one, I suppose.

Here are some bummer things about Omada: (Promise you’ll read this list only if you read the list below it! That’s only fair.)

  • My group disappeared. There were 20 of us on the “roll sheet” at the beginning. It appears some of them never really checked in on the first day at all, so then we were down to maybe a dozen. Then, within the first week, it seemed we were down to 4 or 5 of us who ever posted a question – or answered a question others posted. I had hoped we would be a group of folks cheering each other on, offering ideas we’ve tried, links to helpful resources. That didn’t happen. And that’s a bummer.
  • Some of the data doesn’t add up on the Omada page. On the weigh-in page, it’ll tell me that I’m 52% of the way to my goal of weight loss, when simple math tells me I’m not that far along. Actually, I WAS that far along, then I gained some weight back. Seems weird that something that simple shouldn’t be up-to-date every day…especially because it’s a program that’s data driven, focusing on patterns and such. Inaccurate data is a bummer.
  • I was hoping the coach and the lessons would be helping me take a look at patterns: what time of day I tend to snack…or WHY I tend to snack…or what kinds of snacks I tend to reach for. But, that hasn’t happened. There is no section for recording how you feel when you are eating…or even to record something like, “I really wanted a big piece of chocolate cake and a huge glass of milk when I was at the birthday party, but instead I had a couple of Hershey’s kisses from the bowl on the table. So, while I’m recording that I ate chocolate, it’s actually a big win for me as far as making choices goes.” Those feelings and choices matter, but there is no way for the coach to know that about you…so there is no way for her (mine is a woman) to know she could cheer you on for eating Hershey’s kisses that day. That’s a bummer.
  • Most of the lessons and articles shared are not news. We who have joined Omada have likely read and read and read articles about:
    • food substitution (Eat This, Not That!),
    • managing cravings (Check in without yourself about why you are eating. Are you bored? Write a letter or call a friend instead of reaching for potato chips.),
    • not all carbs are bad (Fresh fruits and veggies count as carbs, but they are not the same as Wonder Bread.)

    These articles are not a bummer. They are good stuff, but I thought since Omada billed itself as helping us examine patterns and taking small steps toward healthier ones, I thought I might learn something more about human nature and choice-making and motivation and such. So, whether that’s fair or not, it’s a bit of a bummer.

Here are some great things about Omada: (You promised you’d read this list, too!)

  • My coach is incredibly patient, kind, and encouraging. I wrote her a long letter about a frustration I was having with the program – and some of the ways I was managing my health that were not showing up on the way we track things in Omada – and she was supportive of my choices and asked if there were any other ways she could support me. She just works within this system/app/website, so for all I know, she would manage things differently if she ran the place! Having an understanding and encouraging coach is a great thing! (Thanks, Omada!)
  • Some of the lessons have had a brand new idea for me to chew on. So, I have to assume that they have had the same for others. Just because I’ve read the Eat This, Not That kind of articles one million times doesn’t mean that everyone has…or they may have read it before but needed to read it again.
    • Just yesterday, in the “Managing Cravings” article we read, they suggested planning some indulgences on the regular. Maybe every Wednesday, you have your favorite meatball sub for lunch with your friends. Maybe Thursday night Must See TV on your sofa includes a bowl of ice cream. Making a decision ahead of time that you will indulge weekly means not having to feel guilty when you are actually enjoying the food and experience. I have never thought of that before. I’m going to try it. And now, I’m enjoying deciding what it will be, when it will be, with whom it will be. Savory or sweet? Alone on my sofa or out with friends? Here’s a very workable new pattern that may just form in my nutritional life. (Thanks, Omada!)
    • I’ve read articles about the Mason Jar Salads many times. I’ve watched YouTube videos about it, too. I own mason jars. I like salads. I really like menus that include the prep/mess on one day…and food for the week. For some reason, when I read the Omada article about Mason Jar Salads and clicked the link to the videos, it meant something to me this time. I made three salads. Ate them over the next four days. They were fresh and fantastic (not the avocado – yes! I tossed it in lemon juice, first!). I’ve done that for the last three weeks. Am I establishing a new pattern? (Thanks, Omada!)

So, here’s the bottom line for me regarding Omada:

  1. My church has partnered with this company to try to help us be healthier. I intend to honor that by seeing this through, and frankly, I’m happy to offer them feedback about this thing for which they have surely paid plenty of dollars to offer it to thousands of us.
  2. If this free program can offer me small bites of new information about nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress, then I’m in. I will set aside my longing to have everything make sense in a lovely and easy to digest chart with some clean bullet points (see format of this blog post), and I’ll take the little scraps of insight I find here at Omada. I’ll stitch them to the other scraps I’ve gathered along the way and create the quilt of Jennifer’s Health. It is not one-size-fits-all, and it is a bit crazy with no discernable formula. But, that’s really all we’ve got, now, isn’t it?
  3. The Omada program attends to four major areas of health: nutrition, activity, sleep, and stress. We began with nutrition. And it may be the one area I’ve spent the most time reading about (and feeling shame about) and practicing and failing in my lifetime. And even in this realm, I’ve learned some things. So, what might Omada have in store for me regarding activity, sleep, and stress? Even if there are just a few things from each area of health that I bring forward with me after the 4 months – this is a huge win for this 49 year old who really wants to manage her own health from here on out…rather than just keep floating along not managing it, shocked at her arthritis and high triglycerides and that the doctor wants her to take a statin for cholesterol. So, I’m looking forward to what comes next.
  4. I think there’s a lesson in humility here in the Omada program. I tend to think I know everything, and I’m right about stuff. So, when something doesn’t look or feel familiar, I can easily dismiss it. And I’ve done plenty of that in the last month. Then I take stock of things I’ve learned about myself, and I see I might just not have known everything before the program. Go figure.

I wish you the sweetest of peace as you attend to your health. I pray you are gentle with you as you examine the reasons and ways you nourish yourself. I hope the tenderness you offer others is also something on which you can draw for your own beautiful self.

Omada Week 1

I should remember this:

When I’m frustrated by something, being really judge-y about it, I’m probably learning something important.

But, I don’t remember it. I just get frustrated and judge-y, absolutely sure I know better, or at least that I know something is wrong or dumb. And then that familiar feeling starts creeping in, that thing where humility starts to hover nearby, but I ignore it in order to stay judge-y. Maybe mostly, so I can stay “right.” I love being right.

I was excited to start the Omada program on Sunday. I had logged in and created my profile, but that’s all the website/app would let me do until it was unlocked for me on Sunday. On Sunday, I’d get to start diving into all the tools and exciting things on the website. I received my scale that sends them the data wirelessly, and I had weighed myself each day leading up to Sunday …because they told me to.

I am a good student. I have always been a good student. If you tell me you have something to teach me, and there are assignments and group work and goals and such, I’M ALL IN. I think that’s why I managed my way through a couple of Whole30s last year. It’s an assignment. Someone sat down and decided what I should do, made me a list I can follow. A puzzle to solve. I’m good at those.

I was ready for Omada to have various tools like calorie calculators or places to track my water intake, my exercise, my sleep, my stress, my choosing a small piece of dark chocolate instead of piece of chocolate cake. I was ready for a goal tracker, a countdown…anything that shows progress and feels like an assignment.

Sunday came, and the website opened!

I weighed myself (check!).

I read the profile of each of my cohort members (check!).

I read the assigned article (check!).

I wrote a response to the article in the group-chat section (check!).

I clicked around and saw where to record my physical activity and how to sync my Google Fit step counter to the Omada app. (check!).

I started charting my meals in the app….wait, what?!…this app isn’t like the ones I’ve used before. It’s super lame. You just type in what you ate. There are no calories listed, no fat grams, no salt, no carbs. You just type in anything you want. So, like, just type “pizza” if you want. Lame.

Then, when you have typed in your list of things you ate for that meal, two questions pop up:

Would you say this meal was small, medium, or large?

Would you say this meal was mostly unhealthful, somewhat healthful, or mostly healthful?

That’s it. Lame.

For three or four days I dutifully inputted my meals and snacks, answered the questions about size and quality of the meals/snacks, and felt wholly underwhelmed with the program.

Then, a couple days ago, I had some chocolate midmorning. I typed in “1 ounce dark chocolate”, selected “small” for the size of snack, and selected “mostly unhealthful”
as my judgment of the snack. Of course, I thought, dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate, so should I select “somewhat healthful”
instead? But, I left it as it was.

Sometime mid-afternoon, I had 5 or 6 bites of coconut cake and a small glass of 1% milk. So, I went back to the snacks input thingy and added the cake and the milk. In the other apps I’ve used, you record each snack separately, but Omada has just one place to put all your snacks for each day. When I added the coconut cake and milk to the dark chocolate, it asked me those questions again:

Would you say this meal was small, medium, or large?

Would you say this meal was mostly unhealthful, somewhat healthful, or mostly healthful?

Okay, so now I’m picturing a plate with a small piece of cake and some squares of dark chocolate on it – with a small glass of milk next to it. What size is this snack? It’s not small anymore, so I guess it’s medium. And it definitely doesn’t get a change from the “mostly unhealthful”
I gave it earlier.

In the evening, while I watched TV, I had some goldfish crackers and an Izzy fruit soda. (Izzies are my I-want-a-soda-but-I-shouldn’t-have-one drink. They are carbonated fruit juice. They are 90 calories, not 150. They weigh me down with less guilt than Pepsi does.)

When I pictured a plate with some squares of dark chocolate, a small piece of cake, a pile of goldfish crackers…and a glass of milk next to a can of Izzy, well it was definitely a large snack and it was mostly unhealthful
(thanks 1% milk for showing up with your calcium and a bit of protein).

So, Omada, with its lame-o meal recording app had me wondering all day long about my snacking habits. It had me shifting my understanding of snacking and how they add up. This is not news whatsoever. Every diet/exercise program has some kind of lesson in it about how “even small snacks add up in the end!” But, I had not thought it through in this way until this week…when someone asked me to put them all in the same place, rather than recording each one separately. Helping me to imagine sitting down to all of them at one time, rather than grazing on them throughout the day.

The Omada folks have said in every email or blurb or video they’ve provided me that this is not a weight-loss program. It is different. It’s about examining habits. Data. Patterns.

That’s what drew me in. I don’t have a lot of weight to lose. It’s really not about the long game of how to lose 100 pounds. For me, it’s the long game of not losing the same 10-15 over and over and over. Living healthier. Longer.

It’s 16 weeks long. A third of a year. Long enough to track some trends and examine some habits and wonder differently about food, health, activity, stress, sleep, etc. So, why I expected it to look and feel like other things I’ve experienced, I don’t know.

I guess I just like to be right. And when I do things I’ve done before, my odds are better.

Truth for Lent

I have been very productive in my work lately. I’ve worked with a team to craft curriculum for a week of camp focused on prayer. I’ve crafted liturgies for our congregation’s anniversary and to use during Lent. I worked a 14-hour day on Sunday – doing some of the most beautiful things a girl could get to do.

I have been attentive to my need to learn new and complicated things lately. I took a six-week course on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Every Tuesday, I drove 90 minutes round trip to sit at the feet of excellent teachers and learn. And I’ve read a couple books about various saints of the Church.

I have been attentive to my needs for a social life lately. I threw a fun party with a pretty table setting for the meal and a table full of craft supplies for afterward. I saw a movie with some friends. I have two friends in some pretty solid crises, and I’m loving them over text messages and phone calls from far away.

I have been attentive to my need for exercise lately. I started working with an app on my phone that dictates a 7 minute workout, and I do it nearly every day. If you are thinking, “Seven minutes is not a lot.” I say this: 7 minutes is 100% more than zero minutes – and me using the word “daily” when it comes to exercise is quite new.

I have established some new ecologically friendly methods in my life lately. I use flannel squares I can toss in the wash – instead of cotton balls. I use a bar of shampoo – instead of liquid in another plastic bottle. I use handkerchiefs – instead of Kleenex most of the time. I’m using bar towels – instead of paper towels in the kitchen. It takes a bit more energy, but I’m learning to change some things.


  • The hairs on my chin grow wild.
  • The craft supplies are still on the table.
  • The sink seems to be birthing dirty dishes.
  • My car is so messy.
  • My desk upstairs has paperwork on it that likely has some overdue stuff lingering in the stack.
  • My ever-shedding dogs need brushing (again)!
  • The skin on my face has dry patches because I haven’t given it the regular moisture it needs.
  • Pretty sure I don’t want to know what is in some of those containers in my refrigerator.
  • I’m pretty sure the rain gutters are full or plugged somewhere.
  • And poop-scooping? Let’s just say I’m behind on that.

I really can’t do it all.

Or at least I can’t do it all …well.

During Lent, I’m trying to be very honest with myself about some things. Confessional, I’d call it.


I am strong and capable, and I can do anything.


I am distractable and do not live with a team anymore, which means I cannot do everything.

(Okay, you are maybe thinking: If you were had laser focus and lived with a family, you would still not be able to do everything. I think you are right, but I’m acknowledging some old and new truths, here.)

I’m not feeling self-deprecating, here. I’m not beating myself up or dripping with shame. I’m just listing some truths that God is revealing to me about…me (again).

It’s confessional in that I’m searching myself, acknowledging the things that nudge up against me and have the potential to scoop shame on my head, and saying them aloud.

It’s confessional in that I have responsibilities lingering in paperwork stacks and home repair/upkeep and pet ownership, and if I let them linger too long, people and animals could suffer.

It’s confessional in that, in my life, after confession comes forgiveness. And just now, writing that sentence and typing the word forgiveness caused me to take a deeper breath, offer this physical body of mine an extra dose of oxygen. Knowing, as I do, that after confession comes forgiveness means I’m safe. And when I feel safe, I really can do anything.

But seriously, even being safe (saved) doesn’t mean I can do everything.

ELCA/Portico Biometric Screening

We clergy folk are among the least healthy folk.

(Don’t believe me? Here’s just one piece of journalism about it.)

I’m a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and my church is doing what it can to help me be healthy. Our benefits services include a “Call to Live Well”, with an abundance of resources for our spiritual, financial, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational, and physical health.

We have financial advisors, our health insurance covers services for emotional and mental health, and we are offered lots of opportunities for continuing education and even sabbaticals for our intellectual and vocational health.

It seems we might have a hard time taking advantage of the benefits regarding our physical health. Each year, they try something new to get us to pick up good habits, drop bad habits, and make good choices about our physical health.

Each year, there is a different challenge which literally pays off if you do it.

One year, we were asked to start and chart a new habit for 6 weeks: drinking more water (and less soda and Starbucks), tracking what we eat, walking more, attending to our sleep habits, etc.

That same year, we could choose, instead, to stop something: drinking sugary drinks, smoking, fast food, etc.

Upon completion of the 6 weeks, we were to log in to our benefits account, self-report what we had done, and write a few sentences about what we learned about ourselves while we did it.

I can’t remember the exact amount, but I think it was about $300 of Wellness Dollars. And when my husband was alive, he was eligible, also. So, each year, we earned hundreds of Wellness Dollars, which can be spent on medical expenses.

We used to take a wellness assessment online also (for more Wellness Dollars). One year, my health assessment resulted in the shocking news that I needed to exercise more! So, they let me have coach who set some goals with me, and then checked in with me each week over the phone to see how things were going. (Having the coach was completely my choice; nothing was required in that way.)

Things have changed a bit each year, as they work to find ways to help us be healthier.

This year, there are two ways to earn $200 Wellness Dollars.

  • $400 total
  • $800 if your spouse participates, too

ONE: Have a biometric screening.

TWO: Log in to your retirement account, make sure your retirement plan makes sense for your life plan, make any changes you might want to make, and when you click back to your Portico page – there are $200 Wellness Dollars in your account. Immediately. See? It probably took me 10 minutes to do a good thing for my financial life…and earn some money.

Okay, but what about the Biometric Screening? That sounds like way more work…and what’s it all about?

Seriously, it is not difficult. Here’s how it went for me:

I clicked on “Complete or review your biometric screening at Quest Diagnostics”, and it took me to a page where I could choose to:

  • print off a page and take it to my doctor to complete
  • find a diagnostic lab near me to complete it

I chose to just go to a lab near me, and right there online, chose a lab 1 mile from my house, selected an appointment for 2 days later, and received a confirmation email that my appointment had been set. Maybe 5 minutes for all that.

So, yesterday morning at 9:30, (having fasted after midnight and hydrated myself with plenty of water) I went to the lab near my house.

I signed in at 9:28.

She asked for a copy of my I.D.

I was called back into the office.

She measured my:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Waist
  • Blood pressure

She drew 3 small vials of blood and asked for my signature.

By the time I got in my car, it was:

…and I went home to eat breakfast.

That was yesterday.

Today, I got this email in my inbox:

So, I clicked into it. Inside it was a link to the Portico site, where I logged in, and was able to view my results.

And it brought me to some pages of VERY EASY TO READ charts and explanations.

Here’s a page that says there is one area of my health that is out of the normal range when assessing for Metabolic Syndrome. I’ve cropped out all the personal information here, but the one area is my good cholesterol is too low. And it gives me suggestions for improving it.

If I click on the Heart Disease tab, it says 5 out of 5 of the criteria are in the normal range, so I don’t have an active risk of heart disease. Still, it suggests I get or remain active, taking walks, etc.

There is a one-page document that I saved to my computer in my “health” file. It simply lists my screening results in each category, and the normal range for reference.

So, I went to check to see if my $200 Wellness Dollars were in my account yet. But, I saw a notice there that said it may take 2 to 3 weeks to process that.

Why write all this here?

Because every year, some of my clergy friends do not claim this money.

Because all of us can use some help being healthier, and our employer is trying to help us.

Because I write things down sometimes.

Be gentle with you.

Waste and Such

I really want to be one of those people who can put all her waste for the month in a small canning jar. I dream of shopping in zero-waste or nearly-zero-waste stores, y’know, schlepping my containers in there to buy the hemp soap and whole grains like barley and farro and fill my olive oil jar from the big drums with little spigots and perfect funnels. Those people are so crunchy granola, and I think they are awesome.

But, I don’t know what hemp soap is, actually.

And I buy barley and farro…and then I throw them away 3 years later because, well, because they are not rice, I suppose.

And I buy a giant bottle of olive oil at a ridiculously huge store that I love, love, love…and when I’m done with it, I recycle it.

See, I’d like to be a zero-waster, but it’s probably a good idea for me to just learn to waste less things. Like it would be super easy not to waste farro by throwing it away when it is farroancient and has made me feel weird every time I clean out the cupboards and find it in there…again. I could actually be honest with myself at the store and say, “Jennifer. You have bought farro twice. The first time was because that Italian couple on the Food Network was funny and clever, and they were cooking with farro, which they told you was super healthful for you (oh, they likely said it was healthy for you, but grammatically, that makes no sense, so…), so you Googled it, and they were super right. Farro is packed with healthful nutrients. So you bought it, cooked it, wished you liked it, but you didn’t, but you weren’t going to give up on it, so you put it away in the cupboard…until you threw it away years later. You bought it; you tried to like it; you threw it away. We are going to give you that wasteful move as a freebie – because you didn’t KNOW that you weren’t going to like it when you bought it. (Oh, you could have given it to someone who likes it, but you didn’t even try to find that person, mostly because you are not certain that Italian couple would take your calls…or your partly used bag of farro.)”

But the second time you bought it? (and waited a while) And threw it away? WASTE.

And the gluttony in your freezer that you don’t eat, gets freezer burned, and you throw it away? WASTE.

So, you see, there are one million ways I can reduce my waste without learning about hemp soap or whatever. And actually, I’m becoming more convicted that focusing on one small and fairly odd way to reduce my waste is, in fact, just a distraction from what I already know is true.

Sometimes I waste things (including money) because I don’t remember that I already bought them.

Shampoo is on sale.

Do I have a bottle in the cupboard?

I can’t remember, so probably not.

I’ll just get a bottle because it’s not like I don’t need shampoo.

It’s not a splurge or anything.

*sighs while shoving the new shampoo bottle in the crowded cupboard under the bathroom sink…next to the other 4 bottles of shampoo.*

I could put three bandages on my body every day for the next year…and still likely have some to share with you. Though I’m completely uncertain that you would like to use Rugrats Band-Aids which are for-the-most-part still sealed for sterile use. I’m pretty sure Sage picked those out in elementary school.

I have more Chapstick and Visine and aspirin than I can use in 5 years. Not because I feel like I need more, but because I do not have a real sense of what I have.

I. Have. That. Much.

So, last January, I started something new. Now, starting something new is nothing new for me. I am always trying a new system or pattern because I always feel scattered, and if just one part of a system or pattern will stick to me and help me out, it’s worth it all.

Last January, I took a little measuring cup into the shower, and when I washed my hair with two pumps of shampoo (for my long hair), I pumped it into that little measuring cup first and discovered that I used 1 ounce of shampoo each time I washed my hair. Then, I looked at the giant pump container of shampoo from the giant store I love and saw it contained 70 ounces. Then, I calculated how many ounces of shampoo I would need for the year, and I went to my ridiculous shampoo stash and calculated that it would last me the rest of the year.

I did the same for body wash, discovered I would need to buy 1 more container to last the year, AND I BOUGHT IT.

I checked out my toothpaste and mouthwash and floss.

I figured out how many dishwasher detergent pods I use in a year.

I calculated how many kitchen trash bags I use, how much laundry detergent and hand soap and dish soap and paper towels and AA batteries and Qtips and deodorant and multivitamins and …you get the idea.

I figured out how much/many I need for a year, inventoried what I already had, and bought the rest of it.

Here’s what this means for me and my distractible mind that struggles to sort and remember things:

Shampoo is on sale.

(unless it is currently December) I don’t need any.

I did it in 2017 and learned a lot about myself and my needs.

I’m doing it again in 2018, and while it is an initial outlay of extra cash, I am beyond certain that I’m saving money.

And I know I’m not wasting as much. I buy in bulk, so there is a bit less packaging. I’m not buying so much of something, so I may spend a bit more on a brand that treats the planet better in their processes and packaging.

One of my favorite purchases was/is toilet paper. I found a great company that shipped a box of 48 rolls of toilet paper to my house. (I know there is a huge ecological footprint in the shipping industry, but the TP I buy in the store down the street is shipped there, so, I’m not sure what to do about that.) It’s made out of bamboo, so it’s not depleting forests. The company spends much of its profit on bringing sanitation supplies and toilets to the developing world.

And it has the best name:

And this toilet paper comes in paper wrappers in a cardboard box, so while that is still packaging, and we still have to process it, it is recyclable – unlike the plastic wrapping on the TP from the store. So, there’s one tiny way to create less waste.

I’m not that girl who can put all her month’s trash in a little jar, but I’m learning to do things better.

I have a compost pile, and I just bought a bar of shampoo to use after I finish the bottle of shampoo in my shower. I know, right?! A bar of shampoo? Yep. I’m going to try it. It would mean buying less plastic bottles, which would be fantastic.

But, it could be that I have a partially used bar of shampoo to go with that partially full bag of farro.

Thomas Merton etched something on my heart when I was in college. I read and memorized this prayer of his, and the sentences I have highlighted below echo through my life in many ways. In this case, I may not be going about reducing my waste in the best way possible, but I believe that my desire to do so, and my actions to that end, matter and are good.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

The Light Persists

(I wrote this article for our local newspaper last month. I’m posting it here on my blog and adding some pictures, so I can share it with someone over the internet.)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:5

This short verse from the gospel of John contains the fullness of what Christians believe about what God did in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the Light that shines in the darkness, evil, jealousy, hatred, fear, and injustice in this world. A long time ago on a Friday, Darkness threw everything it had at Jesus, and Sunday morning, Darkness learned it had not overcome the Light.

Light persists. I see it everywhere. Light shines in musicians who hone their skills and

Classical flute and guitar concert at First Baptist in High Point

offer them to us live in sanctuaries, concert halls, and nursing homes. Light shines in local agencies like BackPack Beginnings, feeding hungry school kids and Reading Connections, helping adults become literate.

Light insists. It will not relent. Light glows in women who say #MeToo, shining its rays in old, painful corners and exposing ugly truths. Light glimmers in the holy work of those who serve refugees in this and all nations. When people have awkward, honest conversations about race, the Light shines. The Light insists on justice for the oppressed and reconciliation where there has been disunity.

We Christians who follow the liturgical calendar are in the season of Advent. It’s a four-week period before Christmas wherein we spend time anticipating the birth of the Light

Emmanuel Lutheran bell ringers – ringing for the Salvation Army at the grocery store.

among us. We hear the prophets foretelling the Messiah, the promises of God, and the way Israel longed for a Savior. While ancient Israel waited for a Savior to be born, we wait for Christ to return, to set all things right.

While we wait, we look for the Light in the world around us. My friend, Chantal, glimmers with the Light of Christ as she works planting a new bi-lingual and bi-cultural Beloved+OfficialChristian community in Winston-Salem. But, the Light isn’t only found in congregations and Bible studies. It glows in foster families and animal shelters. You can see it shimmering among friends laughing over a good meal and adult children caring for aging parents. In every parent who is patiently negotiating mealtime or bedtime with a toddler, the Light shines.

While we wait, we participate in the Light; we run into the darkness with our candles of

Carolers from Emmanuel Lutheran visiting some of our homebound members.

hope. We reflect the Light’s rays when we have a hard conversation in order to work on forgiveness. The light glints off the barrel of our pen as we write a check to a helping agency. When we pile in a van to visit a lonely friend and sing carols in his living room, we are rays of the Light.

Living in a divided nation, in a world pulsing with war and injustice, we might feel hopeless, like the Darkness is winning. But it’s just not true. There is more love than hate, more Light than Dark. Our call is to keep walking with our candles, to keep persisting and insisting in our parts of the world that the Darkness did not overcome the Light. If you look just so, tilt your head and squint your eyes just right, you’ll begin to make out the shape of a candle and the glow of its flame in your neighbors’ hands, too.

Reverend Jennifer Krushas is pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran in High Point, NC.

Jennifer, Table for One

I have lots of friends who are single. Many of them have been single for years.

For me, it’s been 2.5 years of singleness.

And I’m noticing something.

I do big things alone, now.

There are a hundred thousand little things I do now as a single person that are slightly different. I’m finally learning not to buy the family pack of chicken breasts and to stop checking the price of espresso (which I never drank, but Ken loved). I don’t wonder who is going to start the dishwasher or get the mail every day or put the trash by the curb every week. I manage all the bills and taxes and HSA account balance. The little day-to-day pieces of life, I have slowly put in place. Messily, to be sure. This scatter-y mind of mine doesn’t sort and make workable systems very well. But, over the last couple years, I’ve figured out how to shove the little tasks into piles I can recognize and manage. It’s a good life, this little household of huskies and their mama.

And then…this week, I felt very single.

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive and give my battery a jump-start yesterday, I had some time to pay attention to what I was feeling. Weary. That’s what I came up with. I felt weary because I had managed some big things this week…alone.

My son got married a week ago today. It was beautiful, and everyone was sparkling. I had tissues with me – because weddings – and I thought I’d be a blubbery mess. But, I wasn’t a mess; I was amazed. I walked down the aisle in my mother-of-the-groom dress with Jenna’s beautiful mom, Mary Lynn, and took my seat next to my darling mother. I reminded myself to really pay attention, to leave the program on the pew (it doesn’t matter if you know what comes next), to watch Jenna and her daddy walk down the aisle toward a new chapter, to look at my kid’s face when he made some whopper promises, to marvel at his sister’s beauty and maturity standing there among the bridesmaids, to love every word my mother’s lips formed as she opened The Velveteen Rabbit and read about being real, to be so grateful for my big brother, Karl, standing next to me.

It was extraordinary.

But, it was also amazingly clear that I am single. When Micah was born and I started dreaming about his life, I imagined standing next to his dad on the porch when Micah drove away on his first date, sitting next to him at Micah’s choral concerts, holding Tom’s hand while we bore witness to our kid marrying the person of his dreams. But, it didn’t happen that way. And, as it turns out, Ken wasn’t there, either.

At my son’s wedding, I was flanked by my brother and my mother, two of God’s best pieces of work. But, that wasn’t really the plan.

When I got home from the wedding on Sunday evening, I was pretty sure I was getting the cold about which I’d been saying, “I don’t have time to get sick!” for about a week. By Monday morning, I was feverish and achy. It’s the first time I’ve been sick since my nest emptied a couple months ago. And it turns out that even when you are sick, your dogs need to be fed and let in and out to do their business…and they are lousy at getting you a glass of ice water or another box of tissues from your stockpile in the shed.

The week was one of tissues and cough drops and naps and gallons of hot tea…and by Friday morning, I really wasn’t better, so I went to the doctor, so she could tell me it was a virus about which she could really not do much. But, she wrote me a prescription for a nasal spray she hoped would help with congestion, and I went to Walgreen’s to have it filled. Cleverly, I left my headlights on while I went in and waited for the prescription to be filled, so then I got to wait for the tow truck to jumpstart my car.

And while I was sitting in my car, waiting for the tow truck, I texted my mom about my predicament. She texted back that my dad said if my battery died that quickly, I might need a new one. So, I knew my plan for a quick trip to the doctor and then crawling back to bed had to be scrapped.

And I thought, “If Ken were here, he would bring me his car, tell me to go home and crawl into bed, manage the tow-truck-jump-start, and go to AutoZone and get a new battery.”

Right there, in my juiceless car, I realized I was weary from doing big things alone. All the feelings of Micah’s wedding and all the fatigue from managing life while sick…and now a car thing…these things are things often made easier with the right partner.

Of course, I’m not alone. Not by a longshot.

  • Because I was flanked by my big brother and my darling mother while my son made promises and my daughter bore beautiful witness (not to mention my cousins, aunt, sister-in-law, niece, and beloved friends).
  • Because Linda, Eileen, Stan, Patrick, and others all checked on me this week while I was sick.
  • Because I got to share meals and great conversation with Katy, Jake, and Ann this week.
  • Because my mom is always a call or text away…with dad’s sound advice about a battery chiming in.
  • Because my oldest brother, James, called this week to ask how the mother-of-the-groom was doing, how my heart felt.

I’m absolutely not alone.

But, I’m noticing more and more that I am definitely single.